Tag: workplace safety

Labor Department Regulatory Agenda is Not a Growth Agenda

President Barack Obama met with business leaders last week to discuss “a shared agenda focused on moving our economy forward that not only continues to grow the economy, but also ensures America is competing and leading in the world.” He then later met with labor union leaders in which the President “reinforced the essential role the union movement plays in growing the economy, creating good jobs on Main Street, and keeping America competitive.”

It appears that the President is rightfully focused on job creation and enhancing our nation’s economic competitiveness.

We looked forward to going through the Department of Labor’s Fall 2010 regulatory agenda (on the last day of the season!) today to learn how the Labor Department was going to achieve the goal of achieving “Good Jobs for Everyone.” Now that’s it’s here, most of what we see is focused on increasing regulations on employers and achieving goals that were unable to be done legislatively.

Specifically the agenda includes:

  • A new regulatory proposal that would require companies to disclose to both independent contractors and employees alike a description of their status as either an employee or independent contractor. While few details are offered on this expected regulatory endeavor it appears to place new requirements on employers to disseminate information to employees. This regulation appears to be very similar to legislation, the Employee Misclassification Prevention Act, offered by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA).
  • Information on proposals expected from the Office of Labor Management Standards that would require employers to disclose the details of when they engage in “persuader activities” and plans to “reconsider” (i.e. limit) the types of efforts engaged by employers to comply with labor laws that are not currently required to be disclosed. Note: the administration previously removed a set of disclosure requirements for union organizations citing the burden they posed for labor leaders to comply.
  • An update on OSHA’s efforts to mandate an expansive safety and health program standard through what has been called the “Injury and Illness Prevention Program”
  • An indication that OSHA intends to finalizing their proposed rulemaking to allow citations to be issued for certain small businesses that wish to work proactively with the agency to ensure that they are compliant with existing OSHA standards and regulations – a move that would deter participation in a very effective program.

As we’ve stated here numerous times: more regulations from the Executive Branch produce a lot of uncertainty for employers, to whom unnecessary costs represent an obstacle to economic growth.

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Labor Secretary Solis Begrudges the Progress Toward Safety!

The Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics released data this week that show that workplace injuries and illnesses continued to drop last year. Last year saw some 400,000 fewer workplace injuries than the year before. We know many folks may say that this decrease may be the result of continued low employment that’s a result of our current economic situation (and failed federal policies that don’t support job growth!) But, the reality is the overall rate of injuries has also dropped from 3.9 cases per 100 full time workers to 3.6. This number shows that the ratio of individuals getting hurt at work is declining.

Now, there are many reasons for this improvement, but the fact is, these numbers have been steadily improving for quite some time now, and the trend is largely due to employers continuing to find new ways to make workplaces safer.

One would think that the Secretary of Labor would acknowledge this greater commitment to safety demonstrated by both private sector employers AND their employees. Unfortunately, in her statement accompanying the release, Secretary Solis leaves the impression she thinks that employers are juking the stats.

Complete and accurate workplace injury records can serve as the basis for employer programs to investigate injuries and prevent future occurrences. Most employers understand this and do their best to prevent worker injuries, but some do not. … We are concerned about the widespread existence of programs that discourage workers from reporting injuries, and we will continue to issue citations and penalties to employers that intentionally under-report workplace injuries.”

The NAM strongly supports the use of sound science and data in the development of regulations and standards (in fact it’s in our official policy positions), and the Department certainty should have the most reliable data possible to help agency leaders develop better policies.

We are also well aware that the agency has engaged in an expensive and time-consuming effort using OSHA resources to ferret out employers who have not kept their OSHA logs properly. While we look to the results of these programs, it just seems irresponsible to suggest that workplace safety improvements are not the product of safe work practices but the result of rigged data.

Ultimately, Solis and the Labor Department have gone out of their way to use a news release noting improvements in safety to suggest employers aren’t committed to safety. It’s ideology trumping reality.

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Using Mine Safety Bill to Add Costs, Lawsuits for All Businesses

The House Education and Labor Committee continues to quickly move forward with misguided legislation to overhaul our nation’s workplace safety laws. On Wednesday July 21st the Committee marked up H.R. 5663, the Miner Safety and Health Act. As we have noted previously, the bill goes far beyond the regulation of mining to rewrite vast portions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act that affect all businesses. During the mark-up session Committee Chairman George Miller (D-CA) offered a manager’s amendment that made no improvements to the bill’s excesses. The amendment did, however, rename the legislation the Robert C. Byrd Miner Safety and Health Act of 2010.

The Committee rejected amendments that would have improved the legislation. Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA) proposed an amendment to strike the far-reaching OSHA provisions in order to keep the legislation focused on addressing mine safety issues. Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) also offered an amendment to strip out one of the more egregious provisions of the bill, language that radically expands criminal penalties for certain OSHA violations via a nebulous system that requires simply a “knowing” standard. Such a standard is unheard of in safety laws and would significantly deter efforts by manufacturers to prevent accidents in the workplace.

Manufacturers regularly perform safety audits of their workplaces in order to assess any potential hazards that may exist. However this provision would find “any company officer or director” subject to criminal penalties if an employee was seriously injured as a result of hazard identified in the audit – even if the employer was in the process of making the necessary changes to address the hazard.

It is very unfortunate that the bill is moving forward without the kind of bipartisan approach more likely to produce common-sense reforms to our safety laws. The bill has the potential to come up for a vote next week during House leadership’s push for manufacturing-oriented legislation. It seems counterintuitive, to say the least, to be pushing legislation that would burden employers with additional costs and more threats of litigation during a time when Members of Congress have publicly committed themselves to improving the competitiveness of our manufacturing economy.

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Shouldn’t Workplace Safety Legislation Seek To Make Workplaces Safer?

The House Education and Labor Committee on Tuesday held a hearing on H.R. 5663 the Miner Safety and Health Act of 2010. A casual observer would assume that a bill with such a name would be focused on mine safety issues. However, this bill would actually enact the most sweeping change to OSHA since the 1970s. Rather than encouraging employers in their efforts to make workplaces safer, the bill would place new costs on business and increase the threat of litigation.

The proposal would make it more difficult for employers to reach settlements with OSHA by significantly raising the fines for alleged violations while implementing vague new criminal penalties on companies without defining how the responsibility for violations would be determined. This approach, with the threat of capricious enforcement, will do nothing to help employers to prevent accidents from occurring the first place. To be effective in its mission, OSHA needs to serve a resource for employers as well as an enforcement agency.
The NAM is not alone in our opposition to this misguided bill. We co-chair the Coalition for Workplace that has been urging members of Congress to recognize this legislation’s flawed approach. During yesterday’s Committee hearing Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) demanded to know who the members of the Coalition were. Jonathan Snare of the lawfirm Morgan Lewis who testified on behalf of our coalition, pointed out to the Congresswoman that a list of many of the group’s members is available on-line at http://workingforsafety.com. Additionally, a list of more than 100 Coalition members who oppose the legislation can be found on this letter sent to Committee members yesterday.

Snare’s prepared statement is available here.

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Mine Safety Proposal Includes Sweeping OSHA Changes

A group of Congressional Democrats today announced legislation to make a broad array of changes to workplace safety laws. While the bill primarily seeks to overhaul existing mine safety laws, it includes several onerous provisions taken from the long-pending Protecting America’s Workers Act. Such proposals are simply not the right approach to assist both employers and employees in maintaining safe workplaces.

Instead of promoting a cooperative approach toward workplace safety, the provisions laid out in the Miner Safety and Health Act of 2010 take a punitive approach.

Senators Johnny Isakson and Mike Enzi rightfully point out that today’s efforts stray from previous efforts to develop comprehensive bi-partisan approaches to safety issues, like had been done in 2006. They argue, “Instead of pursuing that productive approach, Democrats have chosen to introduce a sweeping piece of legislation that affects every business in this country and only amplifies the adversarial role of OSHA and MSHA, without increasing safety.”

The proponents of the draft legislation say their motivation comes from the tragedy that occurred at the Upper Big Branch mine, but it’s a mistake to treat such unfortunate incidents as anything other than exceptions. Members of Congress should recognize that for decades, America’s manufacturers have improved the safety of their workplaces. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, incident rates for workplace illnesses and injuries have improved 54 percent since 1994. During this same time frame, workplace fatalities in manufacturing facilities have decreased 38 percent.

Included in this proposal is language that would enable OSHA inspectors to shut down operations and force employers to make changes to their workplaces in response to alleged hazards that may be identified by an inspector. Yet for each day it took the employers to put the required changes into effect, they would be fined $7,000 and, at the same time, not have the ability to appeal the decision of the inspector if his assessment is incorrect. Such an approach represents a huge blow to the due process rights that are inherent in our legal system.

Proponents are focusing their attention on mine safety, but in reality, this package would represent be one of the most sweeping changes to the OSH Act since its inception. In many ways the proposal would actually hinder the safety efforts by manufacturers by promoting an adversarial relationship between OSHA and the employers. We hope that Members of Congress will recognize that this is the wrong approach to our shared goal of making our workplaces safer and threatens the continued trend of improved safety. Placing further burdens on employers at a time when manufacturers are attempting to regain their economic footing hinders our ability to create and retain jobs.

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New OSHA Legislation Should Focus on Making Workplaces Safer

Today, the House Education and Labor Committee’s Workplace Protections Sub-Committee will hold a hearing to discuss proposed changes to the Protecting America’s Workers Act (H.R. 2067). Unfortunately, this legislation seeks to simply increase penalties on employers for OSHA violations and expand liability instead of promoting cooperative engagement between employers and OSHA. For OSHA to be successful, manufacturers need the agency to be a resource as much as it is an enforcement agency. This bill and subsequent changes that are likely to be considered overturn more than 15 years of cooperative efforts between OSHA and employers.

For several years we’ve seen continued improvement in workplace injury and illness rates. This improvement is largely the result of a new approach to OSHA that first came about during the Clinton administration. Instead of an approach of just levying higher penalties and issuing more citations, the agency began to proactively work with employers to ensure that they had the resources and information necessary to make workplaces safer.

The goal of any OSHA legislation should be to make workplace safer. This legislation will foster a more adversarial relationship between employers and will not assist employers (particularly smaller sized employers) in better understanding the complex framework of existing OSHA requirements.

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OSHA Listens, Manufacturers Speak

Today, OSHA held what we hope is the first of many efforts to reach out to the employer community to discuss key issues facing the agency. I was able to speak at the OSHA Listens” event to offer manufacturers’ suggestions for how OSHA can assist employers to make workplaces safer. First, it’s important to realize that our workplaces have continued to become safer. Second, policymakers need to understand what efforts have helped contribute to these improvements. In pursuing an overly aggressive, enforcement-first agenda, the agency could allocate resources away from effective compliance assistance programs.

In my remarks I emphasized that OSHA is not the entity that actually makes workplace safer. Safety is achieved by employers and employees alike. Some people who gave presentations at today’s event argued that the best way to ensure that employees are involved in workplace safety is through union representation. However, safe workplaces are a right afforded to all workers, not just those covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

Today’s session afforded OSHA’s leadership a unique opportunity to hear directly from a wide array of stakeholders. While many express the opinion that safety is measured best by the number of OSHA citations and enforcement actions, we disagree. Safety is best measured by the absence of accidents, and to achieve that goal, OSHA should be a resource for employers and employees as much as it is an enforcement agency.

To read my prepared remarks, click here.

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Workplace Safety Improves; Let’s Not Abandon Successful Approach

The Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics today released workplace safety statistics for 2008. (BLS release) The data highlight an important, positive development often overlooked by many policymakers – workplace injury and illness continue to significantly improve in both the private sector and more specifically in manufacturing. Overall in the private sector, we saw the most significant improvement with a 7.1 percent decrease in total recordable case rates; rates in manufacturing workplaces improved by 10.7 percent.

While no one factor completely explains this improvement, Members of Congress and Labor Department officials need to understand what’s working before they attempt to overhaul the current system. The leadership at the Labor Department has pledged a new emphasis on more aggressive enforcement and has questioned the effectiveness of non-punitive programs that assist employers to comply with existing standards.

In order to continue improving safety, policymakers should keep doing what works and that’s the cooperative approach that the OSHA has undertaken with employers. Proposals like the Protecting America’s Workers Act will create a more adversarial relationship while doing nothing to reinforce the successful work that’s already taken place.

UPDATE 3:23pm Labor Secretary Hilda Solis acknowledges the improvements, while continuing to stress the need for “strong enforcement.” Safety should be a top priority in every workplace and good injury data is essential, agreed, but we suspect any effort to validate recordkeeping will find the same improving trends among manufacturers.

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